As frontier markets in Africa develop, ports are increasingly playing a pivotal role. Industries and e-commerce platforms all depend on ports. They are the beginning and end of the supply chains. However, in an era of mega-trends ranging from climate change and the pandemic, are ports in Africa prepared to serve the growing markets?
This was the center of a debate at the 26th Intermodal Africa conference hosted by Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) in Mombasa from 26 – 28 April 2022. It featured a fascinating interaction between port managers and innovators. The focus was maximizing port efficiencies through infrastructural developments.
Specifically, as Mombasa Port pursues to cement its position as a regional gateway, there cannot be a better time for Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) to be intentional on expanding infrastructure at the facility.
For context, some of the perennial challenges at Mombasa port have been congestion and high vessel turnaround time. Others include low cargo handling productivity, especially at berths designated for bulk cargo and inadequate water depth (draft) to berth high tonnage vessels.
Conversely, numerous taxes and levies are still a major hurdle for Mombasa Port users. This results in delays running into billions of shillings.
Why do shippers require 28 documents to export tea? quipped Gilbert Langat, CEO of Shippers Council of Eastern Africa.
Interestingly, massive government investments at the port have seen some of these issues improve between 2017- 2021. During this period, the port harbor channel was widened to accommodate larger vessels, Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) was linked to the Port for timely cargo evacuation and construction of a second container terminal completed. Further, the modern Kipevu oil terminal is now ready for use including the new greenfield Port of Lamu, which is meant to service the LAPSSET corridor.
“We have been deliberate on connectivity at the port of Mombasa to stay ahead of demand. We have adopted an integrated maritime strategy through Mombasa Port Community Charter to guarantee timely services and performance along the port’s transport corridor,” said KPA’s Acting Managing Director Amb. John Mwangemi.
Indeed, the investments are behind the tremendous growth recorded at Mombasa Port. Cargo throughput has maintained a positive trend of an annual growth of 3.3% reaching 34.55 million metric tons (MT) compared to 30.55 million MT in 2017, further noted Amb. Mwangemi.
In terms of container traffic, the Port has seen a 4.8% annual compounded growth surpassing the 1.4 million TEUs (twenty-foot containers) mark in 2021 compared to 1.1 million TEUs in 2017. With the inauguration of the second container terminal, Mombasa port will have the capacity to handle 2.1 million TEUs.
It is still a wide margin from Tanger Med in Morocco, which is ranked as Africa’s top port with a capacity to handle 9 million containers. Despite being less than two decades old, Tanger Med has been averaging a volume growth of over 20%, to clinch Mediterranean region top port slot.
The trick could be Tanger Med’s Special Economic Zones (SEZ) that have transformed it into an export hub. The booming auto manufacturing industry is a testament of the attractive business rates at the SEZ.
Unfortunately, Mombasa Port is designed as an imports gateway, which account for 90% of the total cargo. The planned Dongo Kundu SEZ is meant to enhance export volumes at the port- through value addition- but the project has been slow.
Besides, emerging trends in shipping may benefit Mombasa port as a regional trade hub if properly aligned for the new opportunities.
Africa Free Continental Trade Area (AfCFTA) is gaining traction and there will be a significant increase in traffic flows on all transport modes: rail, road, maritime and air. Thus, with all the expansion plans at the Mombasa Port, it can readily market itself as a critical maritime node for Eastern and Southern Africa region.
“The pandemic has accelerated mega-trends in the maritime sector like digitization and de-globalization. Ports are now a focus for regional integration and industrialization, and can help promote the resilience of regional markets due to the geographical proximity,” implored Col. Andre Ciseau, Secretary General of Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa (PMAESA).
Sourcing goods regionally will also appeal to global climate ambitions on reducing environmental footprint, added Col. Ciseau.
Notably, a wealth of business opportunities exist by connecting East to West Africa a role Mombasa port can favorably play.
“Does Kenya source its oil and gas from the hydrocarbons rich West Africa? We must shift the African economy from the colonial model of providing raw materials to Europe and USA,” urged Nigerian Ports Authority General Manager and Legal Adviser, Innocent Gamboro Umar.
With DR Congo now a member of the East African Community (EAC) and served by the Northern Corridor, it is the easiest link to connect the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. In fact, under the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority (NCTTCA) infrastructure development blueprint, the ultimate goal is to connect Mombasa port to the Atlantic port of Banana in DRC.